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Training needs assessments – Do not pass go, do not collect $200

Posted by Jonathan Klane on Apr 13, 2021 11:35:09 AM

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Training (or learning) needs assessments – Do not pass go, do not collect $200

I get asked this question a lot: "Jon, what's the most frequently missed opportunity (or mistake) you see being made with training?" A lot. And it's an easy question – not just because I get asked it over and over.

It's a bit of a cliché, but way too many trainers don't follow Steve Covey's habit #3: "Put first things first" (or what I've heard rephrased as "Begin at the beginning"). I keep seeing trainers begin in the middle.

Perhaps it's because this is supposed to always be done before even attempting to design the training. Once you do this, you may discover that their needs aren't best addressed via training. Yup, it's to do a training (or learning) needs assessment.

I remember learning of a study published in an HR journal several decades ago that studied how many problems brought to a training department were actually solvable via training. Care to guess – out of 8 issues, how many can even be addressed through training? You have a 1 in 9 chance of choosing it randomly (it could be zero, yes?). While it wasn't zero, it wasn't much more – only 1 in 8 problems are solvable by training. So, what about the other seven problems? All sorts of different needs – supervision, supplies, budget, behavior, etc. The list is a long one – no surprise, training can only manage somewhere around 10-15% of typical problems.

Many trainers don't know or realize that a learning needs assessment is that key first step. They end up maybe writing learning objectives or go right to put their training together (sadly, often text and data on PowerPoint slides). Or they figure that the learner's needs are whatever OSHA includes for required content. Ugh. Please, just don't.

A learning needs assessment is a critical first step - heck, even OSHA emphasizes this in document 2254 on their training requirements. Then we need to develop well-articulated and crafted learning objectives to see just what the heck we expect the learners to be able to do after the learning event (training) (see micro-blog #3 in this series - Learning objectives ("At the end of this micro-learning, you will be able to …").

An easy example that's likely fairly common would be a perceived need for respiratory protection. Let's say that through some reporting, I get feedback that a lab group needs respirators. Hopefully, as a decent IH and trainer, I stop and think, "I wonder what's going on?"

So, I check out what they're doing. Maybe they're not working in a fume hood? Or it's not functioning properly? Or who knows what? All great questions.

Well, let's imagine that things are all fine with their processes, equipment, etc. They are preparing to use a new substance that's a known sensitizer, and they requested the respirator use as an added precaution above the hood, etc. It seems fine to approve.

Now we've determined the need and that it can be aided via training. In this case, on respirator selection, fitting, use, and care. We can now begin to design the training by crafting effective learning objectives. "At the end of the training, the learner will be able to use a respirator properly."

Had we found other issues – say, the hood wasn't working, or their process could benefit from some adjusting, then respirator training might not have been the right solution. It's all about a well-thought-out training or learning needs assessment.

There are many methods and techniques to choose from in doing a learning needs assessment. Which one should you use? I'll give you an example in the next micro-blog – in the form of a micro-story to drive home the key points. Read on, fellow learning travelers.

Coming Soon: "You want me to teach BBPs to who?!"

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